Darren Aronofsky's voyeuristic psychological thriller about a prima ballerina's descent into madness employs the same subjective dancer's-point-of-view that gave "The Red Shoes" its sense of frenetic authenticity. Natalie Portman delivers the most dazzling performance of her career as Nina, a ballet dancer determined to prove to her manipulative choreographer that she possesses the duality of the Swan Queen role in his version of Swan Lake. To do so she must possess dueling identities as the innocent "White Swan" and the erotically-if-demon-possessed "Black Swan." The ubiquitous Vincent Cassel dominates in his role as New York City Ballet choreographer Thomas Leroy. Leroy's habit of sleeping with his lead dancers is widely known. Leroy bullies, neglects, and seduces Nina into expanding mental and physical boundaries set by her neurotic mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). Nina still lives at home with mom in their Manhattan apartment. In this dysfunctional home setting, echoes of "Carrie" reverberate along with abstract corporeal elements that tip toward Cronenberg's cinema-of-the-body surrealism. Portman's estimable abilities as a ballet dancer give the film a foundation of disciplined substance that Aronofsky liberally attacks with brushstrokes of subliminal menace.
Rated R. 108 mins. (A-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)
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